Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Old Testament Table Manners

Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea, and of all foods that are acceptable, in my sight you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the hoofed animals, broiled or ground into burgers, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cloven-hoofed animal, plain or with cheese, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cereal grains, of the corn and of the wheat and of the oats, and of all the cereals that are of bright color and unknown substance you may eat, but not in the living room.

Drink your milk as it is given you, neither use on it any utensils, nor fork, nor knife, nor spoon, for that is not what they are for, you shall be sent away.

When you have drunk, let the empty cup then remain upon the table, and do not bite it upon its edge and by your teeth hold it to your face in order to make noises in it sounding like a duck: for you shall be sent away.

When you chew your food, keep your mouth closed until you have swallowed, and do not open it to show your brother or your sister what is within; I say to you, do not so, even if your brother or your sister hath done the same to you.

Sit just as I have told you, and do not lean to one side or the other, nor slide down until you are nearly slid away. Heed me; for if you sit like that, your hair will go into the syrup. And now behold, even as I have said, it has come to pass.

For we judge between the plate that is unclean and the plate that is clean, saying first, if the plate is clean, then you shall have dessert.

And if you try to deceive by moving the potatoes or peas around with a fork, that it may appear you have eaten what you have not, you will fall into iniquity. And I will know, and you shall have no dessert.

Do not scream; for it is as if you scream all the time. If you are given a plate on which two foods you do not wish to touch each other are touching each other, your voice rises up even to the ceiling, while you point to the offense with the finger of your right hand; but I say to you, scream not.

Likewise if you receive a portion of fish from which every piece of herbal seasoning has not been scraped off, and the herbal seasoning is loathsome to you and steeped in vileness, again I say, refrain from screaming. Though the vileness overwhelm you, and cause you to faint unto death, make not that sound from within your throat, neither cover your face, nor press your fingers to your nose. For even I have made the fish as it should be; behold, I eat it myself, yet shall not surely die.

-- "Lamentations of the Father" by Ian Frazier, The Atlantic Monthly, 1997.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Young Guns for God

I spent three days this past week in Louisville, Kentucky, serving as a mentor at the Academy of Young Preachers. This first ever, one-of-a-kind event featured 100 young preachers, age 18-26, from all kinds of Christian backgrounds and traditions, coming together to preach, to sharpen their skills and celebrate their calling. Each preacher was required to enlist a mentor preacher, and that's why I was there, mentor for Harold Sims, our summer missionary last year.

The diversity was dizzying, with Catholics and Pentecostals and Baptists and Brethren, mainline and non-denominational, male and female, black and white, liberals and conservatives, all in fellowship, affirming and encouraging each other as they came to preach Christ. Students from Liberty University and Harvard University and all points in between were present and participating and preaching.

And preach they did. I listened to 26 sermons during the Festival, each one preaching on some aspect of the life and work of Christ. I heard passion and purpose. I saw remarkable creativity. I marveled at the depth of their insights. And most of all, I could feel their sheer joy, the joy that comes from proclaiming the best news of all, the joy that God gives as we answer His call upon our lives.

And in their youthful eagerness and exuberant joy, I felt my own joy rekindled and my own calling renewed. Harold and the many young preachers I met thanked me repeatedly for investing a few days in their future ministries. But I am the grateful one, so thankful and stirred and blessed. Thirty years of preaching melts away. I feel like a kid again.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hearing Voices

In the year that King Uzziah died, or in the year that John F. Kennedy died, or in the year that somebody you loved died, you go into the temple if that is your taste, or you hide your face in the little padded temple of your hands, and a voice says, "Whom shall I send into the pain of a world where people die?" and if you are not careful, you may find yourself answering, "Send me." You may hear the voice say, "Go." Just go. 

Like "duty," "law," "religion," the word "vocation" has a dull ring to it, but in terms of what it means, it is really not dull at all. "Vocare," to call, of course, and a man's vocation is a man's calling. It is the work that he is called to in this world, the thing he is summoned to spend his life doing. We can speak of a man's choosing his vocation, but perhaps it is at least as accurate to speak of a vocation's choosing the man, of a call's being given and a man's hearing it, or not hearing it. 

And maybe that is the place to start: the business of listening and hearing. A man's life is full of all sorts of voices calling him in all sorts of directions. Some of them are voices from inside and some of them are voices from outside. The more alive and alert we are, the more clamorous our lives are. Which do we listen to? What kind of voice do we listen for? - Frederick Buechner

One night long ago a sixteen year old boy sat alone on the back step of our home, gazing up into a clear, sparkling, night sky. In a strange, whispering, wonderful moment Someone called to me, my calling came to me as I listened, struck silent by the enormity of God and my own littleness. I heard it, and something stirred in me that had never moved before, something deep, something real, something alive, something struggling to speak, to take flight in me. I had no words, no answer.

My life from that moment has been my own harrowing and halting effort to answer that Voice, to fulfill my vocare, my calling.